Alex James: The Great Escape

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The Independent Online

I wandered around the garden in bare feet as usual. These days I only put shoes on for London. The September calm is supreme, and the view goes on forever. All the haze of high summer has cleared, the horizon is in sharp focus, and I think you can see Sam Mendes' and Kate Winslet's house. The whole landscape has softened, all the hard edges obscured by seeding grasses and haywire shrubs.

The derelict buildings in the farm's downtown district are full of crane flies, butterflies and dragonflies. The neighbourhood is a courtyard of Cotswold stone stables earmarked for conversion into something useful, possibly a high-class sausage-making operation. I haven't been there for a while, but today I tiptoed over to check the roofs. The roof is always the first thing you have to take care of. As long as the roof is OK, a building can sit there for years waiting for the right sausage man to stroll into town.

The roofs are bad. I knew that anyway. I just thought I'd check. There were a lot of good things going on in there though. In this forgotten corner, it was as if I'd stepped right out of time. Ox-eye daisies stood absolutely motionless. In the shady corners, the concrete slabs of the old bull pens are being colonised by a creeping moss. There's nothing like moss for suggesting otherworldliness. It seems to exist on a different scale to the rest of the garden. The spiralling chaos of the tiny leaves speaks a secret language. It communicates directly with the part of the brain that deals with roofs and tells it not to worry.

The 10 most wanted enemies of the gardener have set up shop here and are all looking magnificent. A handsome thistle in full flower was magisterial in the autumn light. Sticky willy, ivy, dock and nettles have been waging war all summer, but now territories are firmly established and there was a sweet sense of balance that the formal gardens lack.

In the up-and-coming cheese quarter, Mr Crudge the cheese man was scratching his head. It seems he should have started with the floors when he was assembling his bolt-together cheese factory. I told him I thought it was normally the roof you started with. I realised I wasn't being very helpful, and so went to look for Fred instead.

Down in the barns, Fred the sheep farmer hasn't been very conspicuous lately. I'm not even sure how he got on at the Moreton-in-Marsh Show. He usually does quite well, but it has been really difficult for him to convert to organic farming. He probably thinks the world's gone mad. He's spent his life rearing sheep and winning prizes, and now here I am, I who know nothing, telling him to do it differently.

I think we've had the last of the figs, and the beetroot are going out of business, but the courgettes are putting on a sprint finish. I like a fashionable zucchini, but it's been hard to cope with the amount that one plant produces. I'm not going to do bloomin' courgettes next year. They're going beserk in the rain, ballooning into huge marrows while-u-wait. Apart from the marrows though, I wouldn't change a thing.

a.james@independent.co.uk

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